Remember advertising in The Yellow Pages? SalesRep that covered 5 appointments a day, every day? Or sending a direct mail piece with a response card and waiting for the leads to come in?

Oh halcyon days I hear you say!

If you own a B2B business, or are responsible for Sales, Lead Generation or Marketing, the dramatic changes in recent years in how businesses and Buyers identify and engage with suppliers will have had an effect on how you do business.

Changes? What changes?

The internet has helped Buyers to research potential suppliers and make a more considered initial evaluation of their potential suitability.

The effect is that Buyers no longer need to see a Salesperson to find out basic information about a supplier. Whilst for most B2B transactions of any note there is human interaction between the Buyer and Salesperson, there is less of it and usually at a later stage in the buying process.

How has this affected Sales and Marketing teams?

Most B2B businesses now generate less leads than they used to, as Buyers qualify out non-suitable businesses without needing to meet with a Salesperson.

The net effect is, therefore, that it is harder to generate leads, but in general the quality of leads is better.

There have been lots of developments in marketing channels, but in this article we are primarily focused on the top-level strategic changes B2B businesses need to make, not tactics.

Adapting to change

As more of the supplier evaluation is conducted prior to engaging with Sales, the proportion of the overall sales and marketing budget allocated to marketing needs to increase.

This is clearly good news for marketing, as their relative importance has increased.

For salespeople it’s a mixed bag. Research for Forrester forecasts that by 2022 in the US alone there will be 1.1 million less sales roles than ten years previously.

Less leads to cover needs less salespeople. The positive for salespeople – the good ones – is that as Buyers self-educate and are increasingly knowledgeable, the difference in results from an average salesperson vs. a good one has widened. So the same revenue can be generated from fewer salespeople.

The rise of inbound marketing

Not all leads are equal. Research by Aberdeen Group shows the close-ratio of inbound leads is nearly twice that of outbound leads.

These figures may be skewed slightly by referrals, which are of course inbound leads, but are generally the cream of the crop as far as closing ratio go. But there isn’t much dispute that inbound leads are positive.

The quandary here is that is that marketing can’t just focus on lead generation in the traditional way; a campaign is run, the leads are measured and ROI can be forecast quickly.

Inbound marketing is a mid-long term investment. And that, for many SMEs, requires a change of culture and mind-set.

Design and content play a crucial role

What inbound & outbound marketing and sales have in common is that it is easier and more effective to generate leads and close sales for businesses that look the part.

With Buyers evaluating suppliers prior to committing to meeting sales, the design and user experience of your website, along with the depth and quality of content and research material it contains, are critical factors in the success or otherwise of marketing, lead generation and sales.

Investment in marketing assets increases the effectiveness and return on investment across lead generation and sales activity.

Maintaining the status quo isn’t an option

Like it or not, change has and will continue affect most B2B businesses. Those that are slowest to adapt are the most likely to be negatively affected.

Conversely, the businesses that are enjoying the most success are usually the ones that have recognised changing times and have developed or sought out new expertise that has enabled them to gain competitive advantage and outperform their peers.

“A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again.
But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.”

Roy H. Williams